Mother Mountain Records is the latest entry into the bluegrass business, a small western Virginia-based label owned and operated by Jeff Kennedy.
They have just released their first recording, a single by a young vocalist who Jeff discovered in a 4H competition named Megan Nicole. The song is called Heartbreak Game, one Kennedy wrote, and recorded at Castle Recording Studios in Castlewood, VA.
Kennedy is a musician himself, with a legitimate background in bluegrass. He explained a bit about that, and what inspired him to jump into the business, when we first met a few weeks ago.
“I’ve been playing guitar for the last 24 years. My dad was a fella named Dale Kennedy who played fiddle in a lot of regional bands here in southwest Virginia, and he got me into music early on. I had a few little gigs here and there as a teen. Got to go fill in on rhythm guitar with Ralph Stanley senior and the Clinch Mountain Boys a few dozen times between 2004 and 2006 when Ralph II was sort of first going out on his own.
Through my teens I played a few gigs with Raymond Fairchild and then other regional bands like Vince Combs and the Shadetree Grass, Kody Norris & the Watauga Mountain Boys, and a little group of teen pickers from around this area called the Midnight Ramblers. At 18, I joined the Army and spent the next six years as an infantryman. Did three tours to Afghanistan and came home when my time was up in 2016. From there, I tried to get back into picking, but it was a lot different game than it was when I left. Since then, I’ve just been taking gigs with local bands or regional acts as they come.
What led to this idea for a record company was a lot to do with that I guess. I’ve noticed that bluegrass has gone to this place where the traditional side is sort of stuck singing songs about how everything use to be and the progressive side is so far in left field that, while extremely technically impressive, it doesn’t have that ‘everybody can play it’ appeal anymore. Beyond that, it seems like opportunities to play at the entry level, and interest in the music, has shrunk a lot compared to what it was 10 years ago. I feel like there’s not as much exposure to it in a way everyday people can relate to it anymore, and I also feel like it’s such a daunting task for someone without a lot of connections already established, or the time to go to festivals and build a base to get a deal and have a record made. So, I figured I’m losing money all over the place going and playing gigs, why not just lose that money on something worthwhile like helping someone make something that gives them an opportunity.”
He had had his eye on Megan since he first heard her when he was judging that 4H contest, so he put her in the studio with Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle, Thomas Cassell on mandolin, Jacob Metz on reso-guitar, and Mitch Bentley on bass. Jeff covered the guitar with David Castle engineering.
Check out the track…
Kennedy is quite proud of Megan, for whom Heartbreak Game was her first professional recording.
“Megan Nicole is a fantastic singer. I got asked to go judge a 4H talent show about a year ago here in Clintwood, and she sang a Sam Smith pop song called Stay with Me. When I heard her voice sound the way it did over a backing track with a basic Shure SM58 mic and no frills, just pure sound and talent, I was just totally blown away. Like a lot of singers from this area, her passion for singing started in church. She really got a lot of encouragement over the years from participating in 4-H events throughout her school years. She also had a few opportunities to perform at some pretty major local events including being an opening act for Mark Chesnut at the Virginia Kentucky District fair a few years back. Megan is super big on her family and they’ve really been extremely supportive of her music. Her biggest aspiration with her career as an artist is to get successful enough to be able to give back to her family and support them the way they’ve supported her.
All around, when I heard her sing, got to know her, and had this song written, I just felt in my bones that it suited her and would be a good stepping stone and experience for her. She’s a wonderful person and I think she’s got all the potential in the world to be an influential singer. I’m just thankful that I got to be involved in helping her put herself out there, and I really look forward to people beyond this area getting to experience what she has to offer as an artist.”
Congratulations to Jeff Kennedy, and a big Bluegrass Today welcome to Mother Mountain Records. Best wishes, as well, to young Megan Nicole.
Heartbreak Game is available now from popular download and streaming services online.